Penhaligon’s – Fragrances “Downton Abbey” Fans Will Love

By Sarah Ingram January 6, 2013 11:01 AM
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Penhaligon’s – Fragrances “Downton Abbey” Fans Will Love

When I was in college I recall debating with friends about whether we were “Francophiles” or “Anglophiles.” It was a silly argument, the kind you usually have in college. Even sillier because at the time none of us had been to either France or England. But that didn’t stop us from having strong opinions. I remember insisting I was a Francophile. I loved the French language, had read my share of Sartre and Camus, and imagined myself sitting in a Saint Germaine cafe wearing Yves Saint Laurent clothes and Diorissimo perfume.

I still love the idea of myself in a Paris cafe (who wouldn’t?), but truth be told I am, and probably always have been, an Anglophile at heart. I love English architecture and literature, and am fascinated by English history. I particularly love the aesthetic of the English country house, with its gardens, drawing rooms, and well-dressed men and women sipping afternoon tea, or eating dinner by candlelight in evening clothes. Never mind that it is an outdated fantasy– it’s one many people share. After all, Ralph Lauren built a billion dollar empire based largely on selling the image of the English aristocracy to the rest of us. And there must be a reason “Downton Abbey” is so popular.

In the United States, the new season of “Downton Abbey” starts this week on PBS, and like millions of others, I will be watching. And in the show’s honor I will be wearing a scent from the British perfume house Penhaligon’s.

Penhaligon’s was founded in London in 1870 by William Penhaligon, a barber from Cornwall. He created his first scent in 1872, inspired by the smell of eucalyptus branches emanating from nearby Turkish baths. Since then, Penhaligon’s has been a favorite in England, counting fans among the country’s royal family and its most famous celebrities. The house boasts an array of more than 30 scents, many of them based on vintage recipes from the Penhaligon’s archives. I had heard of the line and seen it at Saks, but until recently, had never tried any Penhaligon’s fragrances.

I had the perfect opportunity to explore Penhaligon’s when I met Brian Kurtz, the brand’s sales and marketing director, at a recent event at Scent Bar in Los Angeles. Brian was charming and informative, walking me through the line’s history and, after inquiring about my perfume preferences, suggesting some things for me to try. There are 34 fragrances in total, including florals, orientals, chypres, and citrus scents. All are still made in England using top quality ingredients such as hand-squeezed bergamot and fresh jasmine. Each is packaged in a bottle that is based on William Penhaligon’s original bottle design—simple clear glass with a ribbon-wrapped stopper. The bottles are quite charming, and do look like they should be on the dressing tables at Downton Abbey.

When I think of English country houses like Downton Abbey, I usually think first about the gardens. They are beautiful and elegant, but not too fussy and formal—there is an almost overgrown quality to them that I love. I told Brian I would like nothing more than an English garden in a bottle, and I tried to two that I like very much. Peoneve is one of Penhaligon’s newest scents. It was created by the house’s master perfumer Olivier Cresp, and is described on the website as “an exquisite portrayal of an English garden in summer, bursting with lush green foliage and heady with the scent of blossoming flowers.” That sounds perfect, and the fragrances floral notes of peony, Bulgarian rose, and violet leaf, plus its warm base notes of vetivier, cashmere wood and musk did indeed transport me to an English garden.

I also liked Gardenia Eau de Toilette, which was originally created in 1976 and has been recreated as part of the Penhaligon’s Anthology collection, which was launched in 2009 to revive heritage scents from the Penhaligon archives. The fragrance is softer and fresher than many other gardenias, and is described as “a translucent watercolor in soft washes of tuberose, jasmine, gardenia, ylang-ylang, spice and vanilla.” I love gardenia scents and own many of them (the subject for another post), but it does get hard to differentiate between them all. The freshness of the Penhaligon’s Gardenia did distinguish it from my favorite gardenia perfumes—making it another possibility for an English garden in a bottle.

One of the first scents Penhaligon created was Blenheim Bouquet. Made for the Duke of Marlborough more than 100 years ago, the fragrance is named for Blenheim Palace, the birthplace and childhood home of Winston Churchill and one of the most famous of England’s great houses. The Duke of Marlborough was Churchill’s father, and Penhaligon originally created the fragrance now called Blenheim Bouquet for his personal use. Today it is still Penhaligon’s best-selling fragrance, and its blend of lemon, lime, lavender, pine and black pepper smells very much like an English country house. Maybe a little old-fashioned for some, but clean and elegant, and a perfect choice for men and women who’d like something subtle.

My favorite of the scents I tried at Scent Bar was Juniper Sling, also one of Penhaligon’s newest fragrances. As its name implies, Juniper Sling is a fun, fizzy cocktail, inspired by one of England’s most iconic spirits—gin. “Our perfumer, Olivier Cresp, was inspired to create Juniper Sling after a conversation with one of England’s top gin makers,” Brian Kurtz said. “He realized that they spoke in the same way about their crafts: the importance of the ingredients, the art behind the blends. Those are central to making both perfume and gin.” The result is Cresp’s homage to the London of the Roaring Twenties. Notes of juniper give Juniper Sling the cool crispness of a gin and tonic, but the fragrance is warmed with a gourmand base of brown sugar, black cherry and amber. It seemed like a uniquely perfect English scent, and I bought it on the spot.

My exploration of Penhaligon’s only scratched the surface of the collection. I am eager to sample more, and plan to make a return visit to Scent Bar (definitely worth a stop if you are in Los Angeles). In the United States, you can also find Penhaligon’s at select Saks Fifth Avenue stores, and specialty fragrance boutiques throughout the country. You can shop online at Lucky Scent ( and on the Penhaligon’s website, where there are some items on sale through January 17.